Today’s first breakout session slot at the Microsoft SharePoint Conference 2006 featured an engaging presentation (i.e. product launch) on “Knowledge Network for Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007.” The talk was engaging both because the material, Knowledge Network (KN), is all new and also because the presenter, John Hand, Senior Marketing Manager, Information Worker Greenhouse, Microsoft, was articulate and humorous. (John, I think your comments about Bush just increased your personal KN. :-))
“Knowledge Network for Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007″ (herein referred simply as KN) is a version 1.0 product add-on for SharePoint 2007 (i.e. it’s not a standalone product). Today was it’s first public showing by John, and you could definitely sense his excitement and pride in the process. Prior to today there were some three dozen executive-level briefings under NDA as well as an internal (?) beta program that reached 814 users at its peak–codename “Knowledge Interchange” or simply “KI.”
The product represents the first commercial offering from a relatively new, tight organization known as Information Worker Greenhouse (IWG). KN was produced by IWG with only a total team of 12 individuals, including dev, test and (per John) “overhead” (i.e. all inclusive).
KN is all about connecting people to people. KN is software for enterprise social networking that helps users collaborate more effectively by automating the discovery and sharing of undocumented knowledge and relationships.
- Who knows whom? (Connectors)
- Who knows what? (Expertise Location)
Microsoft is careful to differentiate KN from manual systems typically deployed today for expertise location. Also, Microsoft points out that it’s expertise, not expert, location. That is, KN is not about queuing up to talk to the guru; it’s about organically identifying capable resources to make better decisions more quickly.
Microsoft is creating KN based on three core beliefs:
- Most information is undocumented
- It’s difficult to connect to the right person
- “Weak ties” deliver significant value
Most knowledge is undocumented. Employees are more likely to turn to colleagues for information (than to systems), based on social networking research. This knowledge isn’t stored in documents or in databases. It’s stored in people’s heads (80-20, 80% individual knowledge; 20 % documented knowledge)…and the baby boom is about to walk out the door!
It’s difficult to connect to the right person. Finding the right person often involves a referral by an intermediary, and KN acknowledges this phenomenon transparently.
“Weak ties” deliver significant value. People in our inner circle know basically the same people and the same things that we know, drawing upon the original 1973 work of Mark Granovetter, “The Strength of Weak Ties.” In other words, the first degree is homogeneous and represents colleagues. The second degree (periphery) adds value and represents colleagues’ colleagues. The third degree (edge) represents everyone else.
The Knowledge Network solution features a client and a server that work together to serve “seekers” as follows:
- (Client) Analyze email to create profile (keywords, contacts, external contacts)
- (Client) Publish profile to server (incremental updates)
- (Server) Aggregate profiles (expertise information, social network)
- (Seeker) Search for people (who know who? Who knows what?)
Results are presented to the seeker in SharePoint, ranked by social distance to seekers and relevance in profiles.
KN is a “bottoms-up” relationship tracking system. At the bottom are relationship data sources, or digital clues, such as email, team sites, IM contacts, contact lists, portraits, my sites, Active Directory relationships (i.e. AD is required), and distribution lists. Relationship data sources are inputs for the KN Correlation Store, which is surfaced with the SharePoint browser experience. The Correlation Store is also accessible to line-of-business applications via APIs and an SDK.
Microsoft understands that there may be privacy concerns involving KN, and believes that addressing these concerns involves striking the right balance among utility, simplicity and privacy.
- Utility is how useful will this software be to me?
- Simplicity is how easy will this software be to install, upload, maintain and use?
- Privacy is how much personal information will this software reveal and how much control do I have?
Therefore, the following simple privacy model (NCC) is employed:
- Communicate steps of the profile creation and publication process
- User can choose which items to include/exclude
- User can choose from 5 levels of privacy to apply to each profile item to control who is allowed to view that information on the server (i.e. everyone (outermost ring of visibility), my colleagues, my workgroup, my manager, and me (center of the visibility universe))
- Admins can configure the default operation of the client, including opt-in/opt-out and the default privacy visibilities for profile items
- Admins can determine which aspects of the product functionality to leverage including external contacts, anonymous results, and DL keywords
- KN sends no data to the server before the user has approved it
KN makes Microsoft’s “people ready” campaign tangible. For example, using KN you can render a spider chart of interactions and then contrast that to actual organizational structure to see how optimal your organization may or may not be.
I’m looking forward to the 300-level (under the covers) presentation tomorrow.
Update 5/17/2006 at 4:30pm: Mary Jo Foley posted two articles on IWG in the past (ref.  and  ). It’s interesting to compare their speculation with today’s reality, which she also speculates on, too (ref).-Craig